11th Dec 2023

EU reluctant to ease conditions for asylum-seekers

  • Greece's camps for asylum seekers are notoriously overcrowded (Photo: Ikolas Kominis - Studio Kominis)

Most member states are against proposals to ease conditions for asylum-seekers in the union, despite vivid testimonies to the failures of the current system.

When Abdulaev Movladi left Chechnya in 2008 he wanted to join his brother in Austria who had been given political refugee status there, after the war waged by Russian authorities that levelled down the Muslim province in the north Caucasus.

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"I had visited an Islamic institute, which was why I was being followed [by the Russian secret service]. I went to Austria through Poland, but at that time I had no idea about this whole Dublin system," Movladi recalled. He was speaking on Thursday (26 May) at a conference organised in Brussels by several NGOs offering assistance to asylum seekers in the EU and part of the "Dublin transnational project."

Movladi's experience with the so-called Dublin regulation, a system in place since 2003 and intended to prevent people applying for asylum in several member states, meant that he was arrested several times and ordered to be extradited back to Poland, the first country through which he had come into the EU.

"I didn't want to go back to Poland, I was afraid for my life," the trained jurist said in broken German, "and it was ridiculous that the Austrians had given my brother political refugee status, but now they were not even allowing me to file my asylum claim."

He first applied for asylum in May 2008, was rejected two months later and ordered to be expelled to Poland. After going into hiding for five months, he applied again, only to get the same answer - rejection and transfer to Poland. This time, he was put in prison for 12 weeks, after which he was however granted an interview. But in 2009, he was expelled to Poland again - a ruling that he ignored and fled to Sweden.

The Scandinavian country looked at his track record and contacted both Poland and Austria to see which country was responsible for his case. In May 2010, Austrian authorities admitted it was their competence, so he went back to the country, only to be arrested again for illegal stay.

"They wanted to deport me to Russia. They wouldn't even let me give a phone call. But I knew my rights and I insisted I had to speak with my lawyer. She explained I had to apply for asylum again, which I did. After one more week in prison, they released me and granted me an interview in July 2010."

Three months later, Movladi was granted political asylum in Austria, where he lives today, working as a legal assistant and translator for Asyl in Not, an NGO helping other refugees with similar problems.

Since the reality of asylum systems varies greatly among member states - the same applicant having for instance 80 percent chance of acceptance in one country and less than one percent in another - EU institutions are now looking to reform the Dublin regulation.

With a deadline of 2012 in mind, negotiations on a common EU asylum system are currently bogged down, with a number of member states reluctant to allow for a so-called temporary suspension mechanism. The mechanism would allow in exceptional cases, such as currently in Greece, for Dublin-type transfers not to be carried out. But a majority of member states feel that by allowing this mechanism, they are "rewarding the sinners."

In January, the European Court of Human Rights criticised Belgium for having applied the Dublin regulation and sent back to Greece an Afghan national who was subjected to degrading treatment, due to appalling asylum conditions in the southern state. The UK, Sweden, Norway Germany, Finland and Denmark have since decided individually to halt transfers to Greece.

But the European Commission and Parliament would want to have such a temporary suspension mechanism put in place for any country under exceptional pressure.

"This is maybe the most complicated issue the European Commission, Council and parliament are dealing with at the moment," Cecilia Wikstroem, a Liberal Swedish MEP in charge of the dossier says.

To Wikstroem, however, a greater issue is at stake: the very fabric of trust and responsibility underpinning the European Union. Citing the Lisbon Treaty, the Swedish MEP noted that EU policies and their implementation "shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibilities, including financial implications among member states."

"It is certainly essential to fulfil and properly implement regulations, but when pressure on one member state is greater than on others, we should assist it," she added.

With the Danish government about to reinstate permanent checks by customs officials at its borders, and the Franco-Italian row over Tunisian migrants, Wikstroem noted that the very notion of trust among member states is fading away.

"We must not forget our own history. For a long time, EU countries were origin countries of asylum seekers. We need a change in attitude, migration to Europe is an asset, not a burden. These are brave people, resilient people who are willing to contribute to our society," she pleaded.

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